Students petition against WU’s decision to move physics library

Anjali Vishwanath | Contributing Reporter

Student Union, with help from Washington University’s student-run Physics Club, passed a resolution demanding that the University maintain or increase the current size of the Pfeiffer Physics Library in its upcoming renovations Dec. 5.

SU passed the resolution in response to the physics department’s decision to move the library from its current location on the third floor of Compton Hall to the ground floor. This relocation would downsize the library to 25 percent of its current size.

Students study in the Pfeiffer Physics Library, located in Compton Hall. The space’s size is set to be reduced significantly due to upcoming renovations.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Students study in the Pfeiffer Physics Library, located in Compton Hall. The
space’s size is set to be reduced significantly due to upcoming renovations.

“The new space will not have enough room for my entire collection,” Alison Verbeck, physics librarian, said. “West Campus and Olin [Library] are pretty much at capacity. I have about 42,000 items in here. And I will only have room for probably 15,000.”

This renovation would reduce the amount of concentrated, specialized physics knowledge and would also remove a space in which students can work and collaborate. The department plans to create a separate lounge area across the hall of the proposed library, but SU Speaker of the Senate and junior Brian Adler believes that this space will not be as valuable to students.

“[In libraries], you can expect a) resources on the topics that you’re studying without having to check them out or go digital and b) a place where you can work in relative silence and not have to worry about too many distractions while you’re studying,” Adler said.

Last week, the Physics Club and its president, senior Stella Schindler, discovered the plans for the Pfeiffer renovations through their communications and outreach with the physics department. Since then, the clubs’ members have been advocating for the preservation of the library.

On its Facebook page, the club posted a petition to “save the library” that has garnered over 100 signatures. In the comments section of the petition, many undergraduate students and alumni anonymously emphasized the importance of the physics library.

“The beauty and fascinating imagination of physics and math were mostly elicited to me through discussions with others, a significant portion of which happened in the physics library. The fact that the library had the combination of books to browse and borrow, a quiet study place and open space for discussion was essential,” one student wrote in a petition comment.

Rows of books are kept in the Pfeiffer Physics Library. Under current renovation plans, the library's size would be greatly slashed.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Rows of books are kept in the Pfeiffer Physics Library. Under current renovation plans, the library’s size would be greatly slashed.

“It is an important resource not only to physics students, but to any student looking for a study space that is bright, inspiring, filled with other hardworking students and ‘off the beaten path.’ Without this library in its current location and size, I would have had a less survivable college experience,” a Washington University alumnus wrote in a petition comment.

This petition and the feedback in the comments section were included in the decision-making process when passing the resolution through SU Senate.

The resolution broadened its focus beyond just the physics library. It also requested that the University “consistently seek to maintain or increase departmental library space, as well as maintain or increase other student collaborative spaces in all Danforth Campus buildings.”

Adler cited the recent demolition of the math library as an example of departments ignoring the needs of students.

“With math and physics [libraries] both going to be gone, [students are] going [to] have a lot fewer places to study—and a lot fewer places with specialized knowledge of their subjects,” Adler said.

According to Verbeck, the physics library would be removed in order to connect the fourth floors of Crow Hall and Compton Hall. Currently, the library has a lower roofline and is in the middle of the two buildings, so the University resolved to move the library.

Adler objects to the fact that the University made this decision unilaterally without asking students or publicizing this information to the student body.

“It’s something that student input was clearly not taken into account on. So [the details are] being kept seemingly a bit secretive because it’s clearly not a popular decision,” Adler said. “We are rushing it through [Senate] as quickly as we can because we are afraid that if we wait until after winter break, it’ll be too late to change the plans.”